As a parent who needs to take a child on a shopping trip, you face extra challenges than someone shopping alone. I’ll admit to buying a toy from the $1 section on more than one occasion (blush, blush) to entertain my daughters throughout a shopping trip…
Be Prepared. Know what you are going to buy when you go shopping, have a list. It is very easy to get side-tracked or distracted when you have children in tow. Know how much your child(ren) can actually handle. Some children are calm and sit quietly while shopping. Many others don’t and have a definite time limit of how long they are willing to help you shop.
Timing. Ideally, the best time to shop is when you are feeling energetic, happy and are by yourself. However, reality hits and you have to get to the store this afternoon during a 20 minute window if you are going to have anything to eat for dinner. Oh, and you are going to have to take all of your children and get them into and out of the store within those 20 minutes. If at all possible, shop when your child is not tired or hungry. You will have more success.
Be Willing to Leave. Yes, sometimes, if your child is having a meltdown, you just need to leave. It is not fun to be the parent who is herding a crying, screaming child out the door to the car, and it stinks to be going home empty handed. It is, however, worth the life lesson and the future peace if you do not tolerate meltdowns and tantrums.
Bring a Goodie Bag
Pick items that won’t get lost easily (i.e., avoid Polly pockets or small Lego parts)
Dress up items (glasses, hats) can make walking down aisles in a grocery store a whole new experience. Have your child pretend to be a cowboy and point out items such as horses or cows that cowboys might be interested in along the way. What does a princess eat to grow strong, be smart and stay healthy?
Bring a noisy toy. Some parents aren’t sure about this. When my daughters were little, I would bring a little ‘giggle stick.’ It’s a 1-2 inch stick that you shake and it makes noise. I’ve also had rain sticks and little squeaky toys (note: I don’t recommend the little squeaky toys). Some days I would let my daughters shake as desired, other times, I would ask them to shake along to a song on the store radio or a song we would sing.
For slightly older children, bring a calculator. Have them add up each item you are putting in your cart and see how close their total is to the store cashier’s total or subtotal (you might want to explain about taxes). Even young children (3-5) like pushing the buttons on the calculator to help out.
Play detective…have your child hunt for and count all of the blue items in one section or aisle. You can focus on items or on people – how many kids are shopping at this time? How many are in carts, walking, crying? Older children can write their answers down on a pad of paper.
Snacks! Most people buy more things at the grocery store if they are hungry…most children get fussy or cry more when they are hungry. Bring a few snacks in a baggie or container for your child (or you!) to munch on along the way.
Runaways. If you have a child that likes to wander or is at the age when he wants to run and hide from you, try not to take them shopping! I have seen the fear in a mother’s eyes as she searched for her child who was eventually found hiding under a display. If you must bring your child, and she won’t sit in the cart or is too big, have her hold onto something (the cart, a furry boa that you bring from home, your belt). Make sure “she can see you” at all times. It’s a great lesson to teach a child to know where you are (“be able to see you”) and is more effective than telling her to stay where you can see her. Have a plan in case you get separated. Let your child know who he/she can talk to (a store employee – point out what their uniform looks like; a police officer; a grandmother) and how to call for you (he should know your first and last name!) if he/she is lost.
Provide a list for your child. If she is too young to read, you can draw or cut out pictures from a magazine (or from the computer) for her to follow while you shop. Have your child check off items on the list as you shop. If she asks for something extra, it’s easy to reply “If it isn’t on the list, we can’t buy it on this trip.” Quick parent tip: You (the parent) really need to stick to the list if you want this to work…if you are constantly buying extra things, you aren’t modeling this concept well. As an insider’s tip, put 5-6 parent stars on the list, or question marks. That way, if there is something you forgot to put on the list, you can still buy it in place of one of the stars or question marks.
Watch the Clock. Talk about time and see how long it takes to go down each aisle or how long it takes to find an item that’s in the middle of the store (to keep child’s interest a little longer). You can tell your child you anticipate the shopping trip taking X minutes (always add 10-15!) and see how close you are to checking out on time. Imagine her surprise when you end “early”! Watching the clock also means know your child. If your child can handle a 15-20 minute shopping trip, try to stick to that to avoid meltdowns.
While it would be ideal to be able to go shopping on your own, or better yet, to have someone else go shopping for you… sometimes you just have to bring your children along. Using the tips above will help make it easier on everyone involved!